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Catholics, Anglicans, Anambra govt bicker over land

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..Anglican faithful in Onitsha worship on the road, after being barred from their church by security agents
..We have no hands in your ordeal, Catholic Church tells Anglican Church

By Nwabueze Okonkwo & Chimaobi Nwaiwu

ONITSHA—THE cold war existing between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church in Anambra State, yesterday reared its ugly head again with the prevention of the Anglicans from worshiping at Bishop Crowther Memorial Church, BCM, inside Bishop’ Crowther Primary School, owned by the Diocese on the Niger, by security operatives.

FACEOFF: Anglican faithful worshiping outside the house of the priest, Rev. Onwuzuligbo, after being barred from their church by security agents over land tussle at St Simon’s Bishop Crowther Memorial Church, BCM, inside Bishop Crowther Memorial Primary School, Onitsha, yesterday.

BCM is located at the back of the Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity Onitsha, belonging to the Catholic Church.

When Vanguard visited the church as early as 8.20 am, worshippers were seen standing in front of the house of the priest in charge of the church, Rev. Dr Leonard Onwuzuligbo, praying and singing praises to God, while stern looking Policemen, officers of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence, men of the Anambra State Vigilante, AVS,   and men of  Operation Clean and Healthy Anambra State, popular known as OCHA Brigade barricaded the entrance gate of the church.

Men of the Gideon on the Niger, a group in Diocese on the Niger who visited the church on the directive of the Diocese to worship with the church joined the faithful to worship along the the road in front of the resident priest’s house.

Addressing newsmen shortly after the church service that was conducted along the road by the priest’s house, Rev. Onwuzuligbo said: “We have been worshipping here since 2006. Last week, we were having a meeting here when three people came in and identified themselves as Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, who were asked to come and stay in the primary school section and we welcomed them.

“We called the chairman of Onitsha North Local Government and told him   about the presence of some IDPs and he told us to build a place where we could be worshipping so that the IDPs could be accommodated in the buildings where we worship until they leave.

“We agreed and started building a structure and later, a priest from the Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity came into where we were building and told us he came to know what he will tell the Archbishop. Later, another Reverend Father who identified himself as Chancellor, came and told us he wanted to know what was happening here and we were wondering what informed their coming to where we were building a temporary structure on a land that belong to us.

Obiano stops work on church building

“Last Monday, the local government chairman, Mr. Patrick Mbah asked us to stop work and we stopped and on Tuesday same week, they told us to start work again and we started. Later, they told us that the governor said we should  stop work and we stopped again.

“That same Tuesday, the chairman of Onitsha North, Mr Mbah,  came with some people and knocked down what we were building and the same day, the Commissioner for Education, Prof. Kate Omenugha and chairman of Anambra State Universal Basic Education Board, ASUBEB, Nze Emeka Olise came here and after our discussion with them,   they told us to move the IDPs one side, allow the school children in the classes and  make use of our church building.

Security agencies block Anglican faithful from entering church

“We were surprised again this Sunday morning when we came to worship, to see the whole compound taken over by Policemen, men of Anambra State Vigilante, Operation Clean and Healthy Anambra State, (OCHA Brigade) who prevented us from entering and worshiping in the compound and drove out worshippers who came before their arrival, claiming that it was an express order from the governor.

“This is a religious war declared against us by the Catholic Church.The hall where we worship is now vacant, the IDPs are well accommodated here. We do not have any problem with them, we take care of them, the school children have their classes undisturbed, whoever is   preventing us from our place of worship here is just playing the script written by the Catholics who have in the past written to us that they do not want a variant church close to the Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity.

“However, we cannot be intimidated out of this place because we gave them this land where the Basilica is situated now. The Anglican Church came into this town before the Catholic Church. Our magnanimity in accomodating the Catholic church is now being used against us.

“They said the governor directed that we should not be worshipping here and we wonder how the governor will give such directive in a land that belong to the Anglican Communion. We know it is the Catholics Church that are using the Onitsha North Local Government chairman and dropping the name of the governor to intimidate us out of this place.”

Land belongs to govt—Obiano

Reacting to the allegation, the Anambra State Government through the Chief of Staff to Governor Willie Obiano, Mr. Primus Odili said the land does not belong to either of the Churches but to the state government.

He explained: “I was told that some people wanted to build on the land and I sent the Commissioner for Education,   Prof. Kate Omenugha and chairman ASUBEB, Chief Olisa Nze Emeka to go to Onitsha and investigate and they came back and confirmed that a structure is being built there and I had to stop them.”

We’ve no hands in Anglican Church’s

Ordeal —Catholic Church

However,  Catholic Archdiocese of Onitsha, while reacting through its Director of Social Communication, Rev. Fr.   Martin Ukor and the Chief Press Secretary to Archbishop Valerian Okeke,  Rev. Fr. Benjamin Ogbunuko, said “the Catholic Church had no hand in any land dispute between the Anambra State government and the Anglican Church.

“There was never a time the Catholic Church was laying claims over the land. If the Anglican Church has land dispute with the state government, it should settle it with the government without dragging the Catholic Church into it,” they said.

However, the visibly angry Anglican faithuful warned that they would not tolerate such again.

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